If there’s any time to get a bit merry, it’s at Christmas time. We all remember being allowed to try a little sip of mulled wine or eggnog when we were younger, but now we’re adults too we can have our own glass. Drinking with the family isn’t the same affair as it used to be, now it’s our responsibility to regulate what we consume, rather than our parents’.
Family members can sometimes find this shift a bit strange. As we grow up, they increasingly find they must treat us and respect us as individuals, and not just their child, or grandchild anymore. Joining them for a drink can feel either alienating or empowering, or maybe even a bit of both. There are obviously the exceptions who may not drink at all at Christmas and don’t really see it as a part of the celebration, or those who have been encouraged to get drinking from an earlier age, so they fit right in to the merriness. But whichever you feel encompasses your experience of drinking with your family, it’s always good to take a look at why we do what we do.
Why do we drink at Christmas? Is it just another big party where we can get smashed? Probably not that appropriate with grandma and granddad watching (though if grandma’s hammered anyway, then why the hell not). It could just be that we’re used to seeing certain types of drinks, like mulled wine, at this time of year. It’s a seasonal treat to sit by the fire with a steaming glass of aromatic red adorned with fruit. Perhaps. Or maybe it is actually to do with something more traditional?
Mulled wine is actually an interesting example itself. The recipe dates back to the Roman era, but the drink was never associated with a season or celebration until mentioned in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It was also used in the classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life where Clarence the angel visits a bar and orders one “heavy on the cinnamon and light on the cloves.” Spiced drinks also seem to stem from as far back as the story of Jesus Christ’s birth himself, as the wise men are suggested to have drank spiced cider.
Thinking on this, it’s kind of nice. Knowing that the drink in our hand means much more than its ingredients can give us a sort of warm feeling, (a warmth not to do with the alcohol, mind you) but just in the way it feels to be connected to the past or something greater than where we are here and now. But whatever the tradition or origin of our Christmas beverages, Yuletide should not be taken over by our unhealthy drinking culture. There’s always the potential danger of overdoing it, and it wouldn’t be a very merry Christmas with your head over the toilet. Alcohol doesn’t even have to enter the equation – and it doesn’t for a great many households – as there are always soft versions of the typical drinks, with all the flavours and spice of the original.
The main thing is to not worry about drinking. Enjoy it if you want to: enjoy the tradition, the flavours, the merriment. But always remember that there’s so much more to the season than what is in your glass, so make sure you enjoy that the most. A Christmas hangover is a bit of a dampner.